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Killing Cliches with Caffeine – Life as an Extreme Sport
Life as an Extreme Sport

Killing Cliches with Caffeine

Over at her blog, Zoë (Please Respect the Umlaut) Marriott has a RetroFriday post about removing cliches from your writing. It’s actually a really good and thoughtful post, for those of us who tend to fall back on cliches to express a concept (and for those of us who tend to write things like “and make a note of this, blondie, this line sucks but you need to move on right now”).

One of the things she says is: Not every shock that the character gets is going to be a your-friend-is-dead-emo-angst type of shock. Ranjit doesn’t need to double over with pain when he finds out there’s no coffee for his breakfast (although I might).

That got me wondering. What would my reaction to no coffee be? I actually had it this morning, when I realized I forgot my good coffee at home, and was going to have to drink the swill they call coffee at work, but that’s not really the same thing as stumbling into the kitchen, desperately in need of that rush of caffeine – the smell of coffee – and not getting it. How would I react?

What a great writing thought experiment, especially as I’m waiting to find out how much of a column I have to modify. So, I did. Why would I be up early enough that coffee was the only thing on my mind, and what would I do if I didn’t have any?

There was an insistent beeping somewhere, in her head but also to the left of her body. As the noise clarified to outside, rather than inside, her head, she reached for her iPhone, which functioned as her alarm most mornings.

Except this morning it was earlier than sin, and the alarm was silent.

Kelly sat up, blinking the sleep away and trying to organize her thoughts into something approaching coherence.

Cats. Right. Cats. That’s what those are at the foot of the bed. Making noise.

“Screw this,” she thought. “If they want me up at this ungodly, I-cannot-bear-to-admit-it’s-an-hour, time, I’m making coffee first.”

Pulling on her robe, Kelly stumbled to the kitchen, hand firmly braced against the wall. Gravity was not a kind mistress when her head was fuzzy, and coffee, caffeine, was all she could think of. “Water, grounds, go. Water, grounds, go,” Kelly mumbled to herself, victim of one too many mornings where one of those necessary three steps didn’t happen.

Stepping over the furry bundles pressed against her legs, trying to keep them out from under her feet, Kelly filled a carafe with water and took it back to the coffee maker, where she reverently poured it into the brewing reservoir. She pulled out the basket, tossed the old grounds, and reached for the bean grinder.


Kelly deflated slightly. It wasn’t a big deal, she could grind more, but grinding coffee was a noisy experience, something better done later in the day when the sound didn’t feel like it was echoing in the space below her eyes. When she was conscious and thinking clearly and wasn’t so focused on each step of making coffee.

She reached for the can and it lifted towards her with surprising speed. The sort of surprising speed that comes when you pick up a plastic tumbler, thinking it’s glass. The sort of surprising speed that happens when the coffee can is empty. Kelly screwed her eyes shut, not awake enough to fully wince, and opened the can.

She peaked. A few lone beans rattled at the bottom.

She carefully put the lid back on the can, and the empty can on the stove behind her, pausing for just a moment to consider eating the coffee beans straight. Would that give her the energy to move beyond wanting to cry — a silly reaction to no coffee, but one anyone raised in Seattle would understand — and be willing to go outside?

She glanced at the clock again. There was a reason no sane human was awake at this hour, and this was it: the coffee shops were not open yet.

Ultimately, I decided that if I desperately needed coffee and didn’t have any, I would be way, way too tired to make the effort to double over in pain. You?